This San Diego surfer has emerged as one of the West’s most creative makers.
The diversity of creative inspiration in the West is as wide open as its geography. And in today’s world of the cowboy crafts, San Diego silversmith Jon Peters exemplifies this creative openness. From finely engraved cinch rings, bits and spurs to mustache combs, tooled leather and saddle silver, some may call Peters a “problem solver artisan.”
Growing up Southern California’s Orange County, Jon found that school was very trying on him. He hated being “locked up in a room,” as he called it. In high school it was determined he suffered from dyslexia, a learning disorder that made reading difficult for him. Away from school he surfed the many great breaks along the California coast and did part-time work on ranches east of San Diego. He had a grand childhood growing up with a father and grandfather who were both mechanics and helped him learn the ways of tools, tool making and generally how to fix things. He found that if he were shown how to do something, he would catch on quickly and figure the best ways for him to work further.
“I enrolled at San Diego State and started taking classes in applied arts, which included silversmithing and metal forming,” he told me from his studio at home. “The more I worked at it, I found I was attracted to working on bits and spurs for cowboy friends in ranching who were interested in the traditional bridle bit designs of the California vaquero. After I started those classes, I found I could figure things out on my own a bit easier once I was shown the basic approach. It didn’t hurt that I grew up in a mechanical household as we had a lot of tools around and my parents loved country music so I guess my cowboy destiny was in the cards.”
Those classes at San Diego State were Jon’s launch point and he was lucky to be near a school that offered them. By definition, applied arts are all the arts that utilize design and decoration in the making of what could be described as everyday and essentially practical objects in order to make them aesthetically pleasing — think silver- and goldsmithing, furniture making, tapestry, embroidery, basketry, mosaic art, and glassware. Today, applied arts classes are becoming as rare as hen’s teeth, probably because they are not looked upon as a great career path today — even though we need folks skilled with both their hands and minds together more than ever.
“I’ve always been a very visual person and when I see something I want to learn, I’m on it,” he related. This makes perfect sense, as before he started working in the cowboy world, he had self-taught himself about metal forming, welding and engraving. For a number of years he worked on cars, fabricating parts and doing exquisite paint jobs and pinstriping – lots of pinstriping.
“I liked the concentration necessary to follow lines on curved surfaces and I guess I was pretty much of a perfectionist,” he says. “That concentration, the ‘getting lost in the work,’ is something I have to work on sometimes.”
He says he does his silver work after he comes home from his day job at San Diego State as a construction project manager. “I get home and sit down with my family and then I go off to the studio after dinner. My wife has told me I can lose track of time and I know she’s right, so I try to balance things as best I can. But I do love the work.”
That love of the work shows in every piece and one can pretty quickly identify Jon’s engraving style, which is self taught.
“I do single point engraving, which is different from what’s called bright cut engraving,” he explains. “Single point is like drawing a single line while bright cut makes kind of a slicing cut in the metal, exposing more surface, which when polished is brighter. Single point is a more classic style that requires thoughtful placement and more design to create a pleasing pattern.”
Jon’s silver is not just limited to bits and spurs and although they take up the majority of his work time, he’s not afraid to try something a customer may ask for. “I like the challenge,” he says, “I have a number of things I have worked on — everything from cinch rings to mustache combs that fold.”
His work is in high demand from all over the West from collectors to working horsemen who love his variety of mouthpieces. When asked how people find him, he says, “My wife handles the social media work and people contact me via email from all over.
“Things are pretty busy right now and into the near future. I love what I do, and my family is very supportive, so in the best of ways I am truly blessed.”
You can see more of Jon’s work at www.jonpetersproducts.com